Walk-On Goalie, Face-Off Prowess Key Michigan Hockey's Frozen Four Success

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A one-time walk-on goalie shut out the number-one seed, and a Minnesota university not nicknamed the Golden Gophers advanced to the NCAA Championship game for just the second time in school history. College hockey, folks—it doesn't get much better.

"I never thought I'd be in this position, but sometimes you can do improbable things when you don't think you can," said Michigan Wolverines netminder Shawn Hunwick following a masterful, 40-save shutout performance against the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. Blanking North Dakota, number-two in the nation in scoring this season, seemed implausible heading into the Frozen Four. But Hunwick was actually referring to his transformation from being a walk-on freshman to becoming the Wolverines' starting goalie. "It's been ups and downs. I came to Ann Arbor as part of a 12-member recruiting class, and I just wanted to be accepted as part of the team," he said.

Hunwick is more than part of the team. Making clutch save after clutch save deep into the semifinal game, he is the main reason why the Maize and Blue upset a star-studded team in front of a pro-North Dakota crowd at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minn.

"Shawn Hunwick, he wasn't even supposed to be our goalie," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said after the game. "He's found a way to be our go-to guy, and I think he's been a confidence builder for our team."

Michigan will need that confidence when it faces off against the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who swept the hometown crowd off its feet with a 4-3 win over Notre Dame in game one of the Frozen Four semifinals.

The Wolverines were dominated by the Fighting Sioux in their own zone, so they will need to shore up defensively in front of Hunwick. Defensive zone face-offs will be another key for the Wolverines. "You can win or lose a game from just one face-off," says Berenson.

It happens every year: a single mental lapse at a pivotal moment in the game leads to backbreaking goal. It could be a lost draw, a missed assignment or a redirected puck. Whatever the case may be, a face-off goal happens fast and changes the momentum of a game.

The defensive zone face-off is unlike draws in the offensive and neutral zones. As the center man, your objective is simple: you don't have to win the draw, just don't lose it.

In the video above, Coach Berenson breaks down his team's strategy for face-offs in the defensive zone.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock